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The E-Commerce Business Owner’s Guide to International Shipping

May 28, 2020 7:00:00 AM

Customers around the world want your product. Here are 6 tips on how to ship it to them while ensuring you follow international regulations.

As your e-commerce business grows and begins to truly thrive, you’ll begin to hear a familiar question again and again: Do you ship internationally? Naturally, you want to say yes, but if you’re unsure about what is involved in delivering your product on a global scale, you might be hesitant to do so.

Relax. Thanks to the rise of e-commerce, global shipping is more common than ever. Not only is it easy to integrate into your business model, it’s essential if you want to survive in a competitive market. So, say yes when asked if you ship internationally — but not before you know the basics of tapping into this new side of the logistics process.

Shipping internationally means understanding international regulations regarding what you can and can’t ship. It also means knowing how to package your products, so they are safe on their long journey around the world. Lastly, it means delivering customer satisfaction on top of delivering a product you’re excited about. After all, if you want the global market to become a regular part of your customer base, you have to consider the consumer patterns of buyers all over the world.

It sounds like a lot, doesn’t it? In truth, it’s just a matter of knowing a few key things — and having a little help from your logistics partners when you need it.

1. Be aware of prohibited items

Certain items can’t be shipped internationally, so before you say yes to global commerce, consider your inventory. It’s possible that not all of your products may be eligible for global shipments. Prohibited items include but are not limited to perfume, alcohol, produce, nail polish, dry ice, aerosols, and pretty much anything that’s flammable, combustible or illegal (you’re likely already aware of that last one). E-commerce businesses specializing in wine, cosmetics or anything that needs refrigeration should especially be aware of these regulations.

You also want to consider where you’re shipping, as some countries have their own regulations regarding what can come in, as well as size and weight regulations. Other less obvious inclusions could get your item sent back, too, such as matches with a candle shipment or glue with a craft project.

2. Address it the right way

Addressing international shipments is about more than just getting the name and street right — though you’ll certainly want to pay close attention to this in order to avoid return fees. Addressing international shipments oftentimes means providing a translated version in countries where this is required, such as Russia, China and Japan.

You should also keep an eye out for country-specific address labeling requirements, like in Canada where you have to include a space between the zip code and the province. In the U.S., Harmonized Tariff Codes (HTS) classify goods by their category and country of origin to make sure the correct duties and tariffs are paid by the importer.

3. Be prepared to provide documentation

International shipments require extra documentation for security purposes and to comply with regulations. E-commerce business owners might feel daunted by the legalese here, but shipping providers offer help when you need it. Plan on including an invoice with your items that mirrors the information on the shipping label.

4. Package it for global shipping

Your shipment is going on a long journey, and it may be traveling by boat or plane to get there. You want to take this into account when packaging your item, so it arrives intact. Use a sturdy box made of corrugated cardboard and add additional cushioning or consider double-walled boxes. Items traveling via the sea are going to be subject to the rolling waves of the ocean, and you want to make sure they’re not jostling around inside the packaging for the duration of this long voyage. Use sturdy tape and wrap items individually inside the box.

Follow regulations on packaging and have a form inside the package with the same information from the address label.

5. Know your weight

All carriers have weight guidelines and will tack on fees for overweight packages. When shipping internationally, these fees can really add up.

Check with your carrier on weight and size limits for global shipments. For example, UPS typically allows packages up to 150 pounds and 165 inches in length. Anything over may require a different shipping method and some extra fees.

6. Communicate with customers

When considering international shipments, it’s easy to get so caught up in the labeling, packaging and regulations that you forget the most important factor in the whole thing: the customer.

Delivering great customer service around the world means giving realistic estimates of shipping costs and timelines. If the delivery timeline is well above the quick turnaround that modern consumers are used to, communicate this. Customers will be more understanding of shipping costs and delivery times if they’re aware of these factors up front.

In addition to presenting this information clearly on your website so customers can see it when making purchasing decisions, you should also send regular updates after they’ve bought a product from you. Lastly, follow up after the item is marked delivered to ensure that the customer is satisfied. This is a powerful tool that can help you make changes in how you ship internationally in the future.

Worried about shipping costs? Have more questions about imports, freight, and other shipping quandaries? Contact 71lbs for help saving money on shipping and navigating refunds, cost breakdowns and more.

Topics: e-commerce, international shipping, customs forms

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